Seeing Clearly Through the Steam

Andrew Ahn and Joe Seo, NYC, 6/17/16

Andrew Ahn and Joe Seo, NYC, 6/17/16

In director Andrew Ahn’s assured and atmospheric debut feature, “Spa Night,” is an uncommon coming-of-age-story with real risks. Handsome and athletic Korean-American teenager David Cho (Joe Seo, who won the Special Jury Award at this year’s Sundance for his quietly powerful performance) is on the brink of manhood, dealing with his ethnic and sexual identities. A dutiful son, he’s struggling with what he can to please his loving immigrant parents, who have endlessly sacrificed for him, and what he must do to be true to himself.

After his family’s small restaurant closes, David secretly gets a part-time job–his parents want him to concentrate on studying for the SATs–in an all-male spa. The film, gorgeously photographed in wide screen, transforms the rooms of steam and water into a near dream world, removed from David’s reality, where he begins to accept his desire.

“Spa Night” opens today at Metrograph for a one-week run.  Andrew Ahn and  Joe Seo will be in attendance at this evening’s 7:00pm screening, on Saturday, August 20 at 7:30 pm and 9:45 pm, and on Sunday, August 21 at 3:00 pm and 5:15 pm. The film will open in Los Angeles on Friday, August 26, with a nationwide rollout to follow.

Posted in Film, Photography, Photos | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

My Beautiful Outlier

Leo, Swimming Hole, Stone Ridge, NY, 8/9/16

Leo, swimming hole, Stone Ridge, NY, 8/9/16

Half birthdays as milestones only apply to the very young and the impressively old. Leo is 14 1/2 today. And while we’re unwilling to say that he’s old (we say older), we’re aware of our good luck–the life expectancy of a Labrador is 12.

Leo, healthy, happy and hungry, offers his secrets for his longevity: good genes, swimming, retrieving over land and in water, lots of sleep, Ryder, Blue Buffalo, sharing whatever we’re eating and a daily glass of a good Côtes du Rhône (I made that part up).

Happy half birthday, beloved Schmoo, and borrowing from a chant that I wish were applicable in 2016’s political season (I miss President Obama already), four more years.

Leo, Groverkill, Stone Ridge, NY, 8/12/16

Leo, Groverkill, Stone Ridge, NY, 8/12/16

Posted in Dogs, Photography, Photos | Tagged | 6 Comments

Crazy Love Rules

Maïwenn, NYC

Maïwenn, NYC

The title of director and co-writer Maïwenn’s complicated romance, “My King,” is ironic, not a declaration of  a woman’s fealty (but maybe an admission of her emotional powerlessness). Early, in the giddy phase of Tony (Emmanuelle Bercot) and Georgio’s (Vincent Cassel) decade-long amour fou, she asks him if, like her other boyfriends, he’s going to turn out to be a jerk. He says no, and then slyly (and seductively) confesses, “I’m the king of the jerks.”

Recovering in a rehab facility after a fierce wipeout on a ski slope, Tony struggles to restore her body, and removed from her life and stressful law practice, her psychological balance. Her long, tumultuous relationship with mercurial Giorgio, the father of her son, a restaurateur with debts and sometime drug issues, has ended and she needs to understand and be released from the destructive passion.

Both leads provide totally charismatic, wholly believable performances, with seamless support from the other actors (including Maïwenn’s sister, Isild Le Besco, whose character has my sister’s name, spelled differently, but pronounced Babette). Bercot’s portrayal of a woman, with a big, infectious laugh, nearly driven mad by a man she can’t quite have and can’t quite leave deservedly won her the Best Actress at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

A bit formulaic, perhaps, and a bit too long, but “Mon Roi” is irresistible. I love the film, so much fun to vicariously (i.e., safely) live Tony’s relationship . Who wouldn’t want to have a big love affair (fou or otherwise) with Vincent Cassel?

“My King” will open on Friday, August 12 at Lincoln Plaza Cinema and on Friday, August 26 in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal.

Vincent Cassel, NYC

Vincent Cassel, NYC

Although I’m always thinking about movies, this is just a capsule review because it’s almost mid-August and I’m distracted by trying to eat a winter’s worth of tomatoes and peaches and throwing balls and sticks for Leo and Ryder at the swimming hole.

Posted in Film, Photography, Photos | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Where Suzhou River Meets the East River

Lou Ye, NYC, 3/24/00

Lou Ye, NYC, 3/24/00

Sixth Generation Chinese filmmaker Lou Ye’s second feature, the richly atmospheric “Suzhou River” (2000), echoes “Vertigo,” diving deeply into obsessive love, voyeurism and mistaken identity. Here Scottie is a Shanghai motorcycle messenger in his mid-20s who falls hard for a lovely young woman he’s hired to kidnap.

Lou calls Shanghai’s river “the blood of the city,” flowing through poor and chaotic neighborhoods, home to dive-y nightclubs, abandoned warehouses and the criminal underworld. He shot his romantic film noir working with a first-time cinematographer, Wang Yu, and the film’s micro budget dictated its use of handheld cameras, partially determining its stylish look.

“Suzhou River” will be shown on Wednesday, August 10, part of Socrates Sculpture Park’s annual open-air international film festival, which, celebrating Queens’ diversity, focuses on a different country or culture each week. Presented in collaboration with Film Forum and Rooftop Films, this year’s edition, programmed by Mike Maggiore, takes the river, literally and metaphorically, as its theme.

Admission is free. Pre-screening performance by FJ Music Fusion begins at 7:oo pm and food is available from Noodle Code and Yumpling. The film screens at sundown. Next Wednesday, August 17, an early Herzog masterpiece, “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” (1972), will be shown.

Posted in Film, Photography, Photos | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Interpretation of Dreams

Clockwise from top: Daniel Patrick Carbone, Lily Baldwin, Dan Schoenbrun and Lauren Wolkstein

Clockwise from top: Daniel Patrick Carbone, Lily Baldwin, Dan Schoenbrun and Lauren Wolkstein

Filming each other’s dreams freed filmmakers Daniel Patrick Carbone, Josephine Decker, Lauren Wolkstein, Frances Bodomo and Lily Baldwin from the conventional requirements of narrative. And with this concept, originated by executive producer Dan Schoenbrun, they made the “somnomnibus” “collective:unconscious,” five experimental shorts filled with beauty and invention. Amazing animation of the filmmakers by Maya Edelman precedes the films, which are punctuated by mini sessions with hypnotherapist Dan Ryan.

The immersive worlds include endless intrusive sound coming from loudspeakers on a rural fire tower, countered by a folksinger, possibly from Eastern Europe, and a young man recording her (Daniel Patrick Carbone); manic dancers and a newly released incarcerated man, easily slipping between distant locations (Josephine Decker); a gender nonconforming teenager saving a gym class from a volcano and an equally dangerous phys. ed. teacher with a creep’s mustache (Lauren Wolkstein); Ripa the Reaper (the great Tonya Perkins), the star of a weekly TV show, “Everybody Dies!” which is shot like an 80s public-access broadcast, with the accompanying muffled sound (Frances Bodomo); and a major maternal meltdown, photographed with a pale palette in a grocery store and at a bbq party at a suburban house, and heightened with sequences of ferocious choreography (Lily Baldwin, who also stars and dances).

“collective:unconscious” will open Friday, August 5 at Made in NY Media Center by IFP (30 John Street, Dumbo) for a one-week run, with special events after each show. The film will be available free online on Tuesday, August 9.

Posted in Film, Photography, Photos | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

That Difficult Age

Ira Sachs, NYC, 6/16/16

Ira Sachs, NYC, 6/16/16

Director Ira Sachs’s new film, “Little Men” (which opened this year’s BAMcinemaFest), empathetically observes his characters at a rough time in their lives, adolescence–and middle age.

Thirteen-year-old Jake (Theo Taplitz), shaggy-haired and awkward, reluctantly moves with his parents Brian and Kathy from Manhattan to his father’s childhood home in Brooklyn after his grandfather dies. He meets and forms a defining (albeit unlikely) friendship with Tony (Michael Barbieri), popular and self-assured, whose Chilean single mother, Leonor, runs a dressmaking shop/boutique on the building’s ground floor.

Brian (Greg Kinnear), and his sister Audrey, unable and unwilling to offer Leonor (Paulina Garcia) their father’s generous terms, send her a new lease, significantly increasing her rent. The wedge–gentrification, class, privilege–that will separate the boys is in place. Initially they’re immune to the adults’ hostilities and dash around Brooklyn, sharing a dream of attending a prestigious arts high school together–Tony wants to be an actor, Jake, an artist.

Leonor, an immigrant woman of color, struggling to make it into the middle class, is radically written, allowed to be complicated and respond accordingly to her situation. She’s angry, difficult and prickly. She tells Greg, an unsuccessful actor, that she was more a part of his father, Max’s, family that he was. And demeaning him, spews that Max didn’t like that Kathy (Jennifer Ehle), a psychotherapist, paid the family’s bills.

Recently on WNYC discussing “Little Men,” Sachs said that he often thinks of a line from a Jean Renoir masterpiece, “The Rules of the Game,” in understanding his characters: “Everyone has their reasons.”

And as Jake critiques “The Seagull,” after watching the off-off-off Broadway production starring his father, “It’s complex,” he seems to understand that life in Brooklyn is as well.

“Little Men” will have a sneak preview tonight at IFC Center at 7:00 pm, followed by a Q&A with Ira Sachs and Michael Barbieri. The film will open on Friday, August 5 at IFC Center (Q&As with Sachs on Saturday, August 6 at 7:00 pm and Sunday, August 7 at 5:00 pm) and Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center (Q&As on Friday, August 5 at 7:30 pm and on Sunday, August 7 at 3:30 pm). A nationwide rollout will follow.

Posted in Film, Photography, Photos | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Upscale Interiors and Glass Ceilings

Anna Gunn, (center, with arms folded), Alysia Reiner, Amy Fox and investors, (left), Sarah Megan Thomas, Meera Menon and investors, (right), NYC, 4/18/16

A sleek and compelling thriller with a lot on its mind, “Equity” is set in the world of big money and high tech. Naomi Bishop (a hypnotic Anna Gunn), a highly driven and successful investment banker at Remson Partners, needs a spectacular IPO to restore her reputation after a recent deal fell apart and during the process she was perceived as less than pleasing, held to finance’s double standard for acceptable female behavior.

“Equity,” the first film to foreground the story of a powerful woman on Wall Street was made by women: director Meera Menon, screenwriter Amy Fox and producers Alysia Reiner and Sarah Megan Thomas, who developed the story (with Amy) and also star. It was financed by real-life Naomis (spearheaded by executive producer Candy Straight), women who have carved out important careers in a field where a female CEO of one of the 22 largest United States investment banks/financial firms is as rare as a unicorn. (Bluntly: there have been none; optimistically: not yet.)

Naomi’s abrasive boss, Randall (Lee Tergesen), the firm’s global head (who gives pride of place on his oversized desk to a wooden Jenga tower), is soon to step down. His clenched-teeth pleasure in dousing her ambition to succeed him, “It’s not your year,” fuels her determination to break ground and be appropriately rewarded. (Speaking about her work on a panel at an alumni meet-and-greet, Naomi bluntly states, “I like money.”)

With her assistant Erin Manning (Sarah Megan Thomas), long on ambition, short on loyalty, and her team, Naomi pursues Cachet, a Silicon Alley darling, convincing Ed (Samuel Roukin), the arrogant CEO (typical tech hipster with long hair and a wardrobe of hoodies), to let her underwrite his IPO.

Moving though a world of cooly elegant and expensive public and private interiors (Philadelphia–where history is being made this week–ably stands in for New York), Naomi is uneasy, both in her professional and extremely narrow private life.

Having a drink after reconnecting with an old friend, Samantha Ryan (Alysia Reiner), who’s now working in the Justice Department, Naomi quickly determines from Sam’s clumsy questions that she’s investigating corruption on Wall Street. She has a enduring but uncommitted relationship with Michael (James Purefoy), a broker in another division of Remson, who likes the gamesmanship as much as payout, and who seems unbound by regulations put in place to prevent insider trading.

A potentially catastrophic problem with the Cachet IPO arises on the eve of the offering and when Erin arrives at Michael’s art-filled duplex loft, unable to hide her desperation to find Naomi, he casually invites her in. Sensing her hunger to surpass her boss, he manipulates her, lying about Naomi’s business ethics, implying she breached the firewall and told him about the Cachet deal. Believing Naomi has betrayed him sexually, he retaliates ferociously.

“Equity” will open on Friday, July 29 at Lincoln Plaza Cinema and Angelica Film Center. Alysia Reiner, Sarah Megan Thomas, and Amy Fox will participate in Q&As at both venues.

In April, for Sony Pictures Classics, working with amazing, unflappable Shannon Treusch Goss of Falco Ink., I photographed “Equity’s” “Film Five” and 13 of the investors, both individual portraits and variously configured groups. It was a really fun day of shooting, conversations and food.

While we were waiting for everyone to arrive, one woman asked if she could use my Wi-Fi. Of course. Another told me that her colleague was a member of the RNC and had some pressing committee work. “Wow, really? I’m not sure I’ve ever had Republicans in my studio before.”

As I talked politics (if I’d been taught that it’s rude to do that, I guess it didn’t take) with several of the women (all of whom were horrified by Trump, then steamrolling his way to the Republican nomination), they told me that they felt abandoned by their party in many ways. But I couldn’t get them to tell me who they’d support in November.

Posted in Film, Photography, Photos | Tagged , | 2 Comments